Terrorism in Australia
I wonder how I would feel about the title of this article if I lived in Syria or Lebanon, Somalia or Pakistan, Yemen, Palestine, Israel, Nigeria …or even France, Spain, Russia, the UK or the US – or pretty much anywhere other than Australia.
On September 12, 2014, Australia’s security alert was raised to high indicating that a terrorist attack was ‘likely’. Billions of dollars have been diverted to national security and draconian laws impinging on our civil liberties have been enacted.
A week after raising the threat level, more than 800 police launched synchronised raids on a few houses and vehicles across Sydney’s west and north-west, and Brisbane’s south to ‘foil a plot’ where some guy from IS had apparently been ringing people asking them to behead a member of the public after snatching them from the street in Sydney. These raids were filmed and distributed to the media before investigations had been carried out and before any charges had been laid.
Four days later, an 18 year old man who had been under surveillance by police in what was reportedly a two-year operation, was asked to come to the police station to discuss behaviour “which had been causing some concern”. When the man arrived outside the station, he stabbed the two officers, one from Victorian police and one from the AFP, as they went to meet him. He was shot dead.
Would the outcome of this lengthy operation have been different if this young man was asked to come in with his family and was instead greeted by a Muslim community leader and a youth counsellor?
Then in December 2014 we had the Lindt Café siege in Sydney where a deranged man shot and killed one hostage. The police then shot him, and 4 other hostages, killing one. The perpetrator was well known to all authorities, was inexplicably on bail for serious offences, and was the subject of 18 calls to the security hotline in the days before the siege as his Facebook posts became increasingly unhinged, not to mention his letters to politicians including the Attorney-General asking about contacting IS. All of the security people being paid to assess risk dismissed the public’s concern and deemed him not a threat.
Would they have come to a different conclusion had mental health experts been assessing the information?
In April we saw three young men arrested because a 14 year old boy in England had been urging them online to target police officers involved in ANZAC commemorative activities.
And last month we saw the tragic murder of an accountant by a 15-year-old Iranian-born Iraqi-Kurdish boy who was then shot dead by security guards.
This case makes me terribly sad and angry. Sad for the man who had harmed no-one but who was randomly assassinated and will never come home to his family, and immeasurably angry about the cowards who pretended to be the friends of a kid whose family had fled to Australia to find a safe place to raise their children. These young men armed this child with a gun and hatred and then stood back like those kids in the playground yelling fight, fight. They are beyond contempt.
Every life lost in this violence is a tragedy as brought home by the father of one of the victims in the Bataclan Theatre in Paris who said, “I can’t stop talking about my son. If I do I will die.”
Yesterday in Nigeria, an 11 year old girl was used as a suicide bomber.
There are ignorant evil people in the world but we cannot combat them by violent means. You cannot combat hatred with hatred.
Australia’s counter-terrorism strategy centres around “five main pillars: Challenging violent extremist ideologies, stopping people from becoming terrorists, shaping the global environment, disrupting terrorist activity within Australia, and effective response and recovery.”
If I was writing a counter-terrorism strategy my pillars would be education, lifting people out of poverty, providing jobs and infrastructure, protecting and respecting minorities, and investing in mental health and social support.
Perhaps we are comparatively protected from terrorism in Australia because of the vigilance of our security forces. Or maybe it’s because life is good here and we must fight to make sure it remains that way for all Australians regardless of religion and ethnicity.
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